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Me and You and Everyone We Know - The Criterion Collection
The early-to-mid-2000s were a great period for independent movies, and no tone or style seemed to flourish more during this time than "quirky." There was the massive success of Napoleon Dynamite, the rise of Wes Anderson from Richard Linklater-style Austinite to stuff like The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums (a rare moment in history when you could not only go into a national chain video store, but buy one of a hundred used copies of a Criterion Collection DVD). Among these films, Me and You and Everyone We Know made at least some small waves, thanks to the specificity of its title, the internet latching onto the "pooping back and forth forever" bit, and the divisive, acquired-taste voice of performance artist Miranda July, making her feature-length writing/directing/acting debut. Revisiting the film in a drastically different era (I'm not sure 2005 was "optimistic," per se, but 2020 is certainly far more pessimistic), its' effectiveness is lessened, but there are still moments that achieve a unique beauty.
The film primarily follows Christine Jesperson (July) and Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), two lonely people who are conscious of their desire and inability to connect with another person. For Christine, this manifests in her struggle to convince a local gallery run by Nancy Herrington (Tracy Wright) to show some of her work, while Richard is still struggling to right himself after divorcing his wife Pam (JoNell Kennedy). Christine works as a driver for the elderly, including Michael (Hector Elias), and Richard works as a shoe salesman in a local department with the detatched, optimistic Andrew (Brad William Henke). Richard also has two boys, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), and lives next door to Sylvie (Carlie Westerman), a young girl who is already assembling a dowry for her future marriage, consisting largely of kitchenware appliances. Peter, the older of the two brothers, likes to spend time in anonymous internet chatrooms, or creating ASCII text art with Robby, and goes to school with sexually neurotic friends/rivals Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend).
July's work, especially her writing, has a left-of-center poetry to it. The best example in the movie is a scene where Christine, interested in Richard, runs up to him outside the department store as he walks to his car, and they imagine the block they're walking down and the landmarks on it represent moments in a romantic relationship. Nailing these moments is a tricky task, and the film isn't always successful -- in an earlier scene, Christine and Michael spot a new pet fish that has been accidentally left on the roof of a car, which is doomed to fall off the roof and get run over. Christine and Hector's conversation is filled with metaphors and lines that are meant to reach for greater meaning, but the section after the conversation ends, as the fish rolls to an unfortunate end, and the look on July's face as she sees the space where the fish used to be, lands with more emotional weight. If the film has a prevailing flaw, it's how arranged it can feel at times, how conversations skew toward setups and payoffs that feel a little telegraphed instead of fully organic.
That said, July is nothing if not a master at capturing certain, specific emotions, and crafting unique and unexpected scenarios that bring something out of the characters involved. There is a tenderness to a scene where Heather and Rebecca select Peter as a guinea pig for their blowjob skills, and something real about Peter, head covered by a pillow at the girls' request, staring off to the side, processing the moment. Christine's arc involves being proactive, claiming space or desires for herself, and as such, the more raw emotional moments land. When she embarrasses herself in front of Richard, she drives home cursing the world, eventually writing "FUCK" on the inside of her windshield with a dry-erase pen. Later, Nancy watches past the end of Christine's submission and finds an additional video message that captures something more relaxed, less self-conscious. There is also a brief but effective fantasy-like sequence where Christine and Richard are the only two people inside the supermarket, lit up only by light reflecting off of Christine's compact mirror. Some of the storylines get a little uncomfortable, such the infamous "pooping back and forth, forever" thread, in which Robby uses the anonymous chatroom to talk to a mysterious adult, or the messages Andrew leaves in the window for Heather and Rebecca after having a conversation with them on his day off. July is careful in the resolution, willing to continue past the audience's expectation of boundaries without actually transgressing. Structurally, the film is extremely loose: the movie's vignettes have a disjointed quality to them, intersecting in a logical way but not necessarily bound by anything beyond the characters' interest in connecting with somebody.
Outside of July's sensibilities, the movie's greatest strengths are the score and the cast. Composed by Michael Andrews, the soothing, electronic tones bring to mind the idea of peaceful waters -- the word "fishbowl" comes to mind, less in the sense of being observed and more in the sense of being comfortable, in a simple environment. July and Hawkes are both very good in the movie, utilizing their wide and anxious eyes to great effect, but it's the younger cast that tends to make the most impression. Slayton and Townsend have a perfect combination of uncertainty and absolute arrogance, and Westerman is good enough to make the dowry feel real through her clipped, precise delivery and attitude (believable enough to transcend precociousness). Thompson and especially Ratcliff are best of all, capturing their ages with a note-perfect authenticity. There is never an unbelievable note from either of them in the entire movie, which is impressive given their ages.
Criterion offers Me and You and Everyone We Know with new rainbow-colored artwork featuring the faces of various cast members and characters, as well as the ill-fated goldfish. I am not sure what I expected from the artwork (perhaps the film's theatrical poster), but while this is a little unexpected, it works, aided by purple color scheme that wraps around to the rear. The one-disc release comes in Criterion's standard Scanavo case, with a thick pink booklet featuring essays by artist Sara Magenheimer and novelist Lauren Groff, and an image of Richard in the lawn with his hand ablaze on the reverse of the sleeve. There is also one of Criterion's traditional "Director Approved" stickers on the front of the plastic wrap with an image of July's autograph on it.
The Video and Audio
The booklet for this new Blu-ray notes that Me and You was completed in a "fully digital workflow," and the packaging makes no note of remastering in 2K or 4K resolution, which gave me pause. A look at IMDb says the film was shot on the Sony CineAlta HDW-F900. 2005 was a long time ago, especially technologically, but thankfully, Me and You and Everyone We Know looks pretty great in its HD debut, featuring impressive amounts of fine detail, gorgeous and well-saturated colors, and only the occasional hint of the camera's limitations (occasionally, fast movement has a soap-opera effect, and there is a noticeable impact on how the lighting looks, which includes blown out highlights in backgrounds, and white surfaces that take on a green quality in the shadows, or which create green edges when placed up against a darker color). Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does a fantastic job of presenting Andrews' score and the film's fairly simple dialogue sequences. English subtitles are also included for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Me and You and Everyone We Know is actually a special edition that I've been waiting almost 15 years for, ever since July posted on the film's official blog way back in 2005, writing about her thoughts on the MGM DVD cover design and box copy, and noting that not only would she like to do a DVD with different art (at that time, the theatrical poster) and record a commentary, that MGM/Sony/IFC had agreed to do a new edition if the DVD sold a certain number of copies. Ironically, now that a new edition of the movie has finally arrived (on a format that was not yet publicly released when the blog was written), neither one of her ideas about it came to pass, as it has new art and no commentary. More importantly, though: was it worth the wait?
The first major extra is an interview with Miranda July (51:23), conducted by Lena Dunham. Given Dunham's various controversies, there's a somewhat uncomfortable vibe to the beginning of the interview as they start talking about the Robby storyline, but it's a great interview, with July tracing her origins as a filmmaker, including a tape-circulation newsletter called "Big Miss Moviola" where women could send in their short films and have July compile them into compilation tapes featuring nine other movies directed by women, and the "Missing Movie Report," which featured improvised movies pitched by women she interviewed on the street. She then dives into the making of Me and You itself, touching on the version of the script that went through the Sundance Labs, and her instincts about the production (including an absolutely delightful clip of her moving guy's audition for the Richard Swersey role), cheerleaders like Miguel Arteta and Sally Field, the joy of working with the child actors, her anxieties and struggles being a first-time director, and the experience of having the movie become a success on the festival circuit. Throughout, July walks Dunham through her office, which is filled with neatly-arranged boxes of production memorabilia, diaries, videotapes, awards, and more. Wonderful enough that the disc might've been a win even if this were the only extra.
Next is "Open to the World" (10:26), a documentary short about one of July's other art projects, an "interfaith charity shop" she created in 2017 with the cooperation of Islamic Relief, Jewish non-profit Norwood, the London Buddhist Centre, and the Christian Spitalfields Crypt Trust. The connective tissue used to justify its inclusion on the disc is kinda flimsy -- Criterion's reasoning seems to be that they both take place in department stores, but the short is interesting, even if July's voice-over explanation of what the shop's location (in the middle of the upscale mall UK mall Selfridge) illustrates about the class divide is so on-the-nose it detracts slightly from just seeing the shop in action.
"July Interviews July: Deauville, 2005" (13:54) is a newly-finished piece for this disc, edited using footage she shot back when Me and You appeared at the festival. The first part is pretty straightforward, given the title -- using cutting, July is interviewer and interviewee, but her answers to her own questions are genuine, as if it were a real interview (perhaps she shot it thinking it could go on the DVD). The latter part of the clip is a little more off-the-cuff, with July wandering around the festival with a translator and a camera, becoming fascinated with a building across the street called Brin-Boryon, spotting the stars (both real, glimpsed from a distance, and some framed and hanging on the walls), and interviewing passerby (and inanimate objects) about their regrets. An extremely charming find/piece.
As one might guess, especially if they watched the main interview piece with July, "Sundance Director's Lab" (19:59) is the footage she shot when she went through the program with an early draft of Me and You and Everyone We Know, with optional commentary by July. This is a treasure trove of fascinating material, illustrating how drastically the film evolved (or didn't) from the workshop to the finished project, as well as inevitably providing insight into things like the importance of casting (not something July could fully control, but nonetheless exemplified here). All of them have an uncanny quality that don't quite match the vibe that July eventually captured in the finished film. July's commentary talks about inspiration and the core of scenes in ways that function as much as commentary on the footage as the finished film, as well as touching on why the scenes evolved. (Note: July does make one mistake, misidentifying the actor playing the Richard Swersey role in the track. It's not Pat Healy, but Lee Tergesen.)
The one carry-over from the DVD edition is a series of five deleted scenes (6:29) (actually, one is an alternate). Pretty minor excisions, nothing too relevatory. The collection is slightly truncated: on the DVD, one of the five scenes was presented in a "longer" and "shorter" version. Criterion has only included the shorter verison.
The remainder of the disc is dedicated to several short films. First up are The Amateurist (14:06) and Nest of Tens (27:24), both by July herself. July has never been a conventional filmmaker, but these are perhaps even more unconventional than her features, with a real avant-garde, experimental streak running through them. A little thematically impenetrable, and perhaps lacking a bit of clarifying focus, but worth a look. This is followed by four features from the "Big Miss Moviola"/"Joanie 4 Jackie" short film tape network project that July talks about in the main interview, with Shauna McGarry's short "'Joanie 4 Jackie': A Quick Overview" (16:08) program as a supplement. The four (five) films included here are Tammy Rae Carland's Dear Mom (2:57), Sativa Peterson's The Slow Escape (20:23), Karen Yasinsky's No Place Like Home #1 and #2 (12:07), and Joanne Nucho's Gigi (From 9 to 5) (7:36). Peterson's strikes me as the most effective of the four, capturing a similar energy that July's work sometimes does through voice-over and a certain ethereal sense of time and place. The behind-the-scenes piece is also excellent, providing a really cool behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into the video chain letters -- like a more technologically advanced version of zines.
An original theatrical trailer for Me and You and Everyone We Know is also included.
If I have even the most minor criticisms of the package, it's that there's nothing, archival or otherwise, from the cast beyond July. A UK Optimum release of the film on DVD had some sort of on-set or press junket interviews; it would have been nice to hear from Hawkes especially somewhere in the set.
Me and You and Everyone We Know feels more like the work of a first-time filmmaker than it did back in the cultural context of 2005. That's not the film's fault, but has more to do with the passage of time, which has taken the world to a less optimistic place than we were in during the mid-2000s. However, that time capsule quality also serves the disc itself, which expands beyond Me and You and Everyone We Know and functions like an overall video archive of July's early work. The disc marks the film's HD debut (it's unavailable on streaming services) with a strong presentation, and the supplements are fantastic. Highly recommended.
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